I wanted to share this story to honor two special people that truly make the lives of those they encounter better (Resolution #5)…so here it is:
Last night my company celebrated its 20th anniversary in existence, which is no small feat for any “small” business. Though now wildly successful, I remember when (and where) it all started – in the basement of my next-door neighbor’s home, the Kantors.
When I moved in to 506 Meadow Court with a rotating series of single friends (who systematically seemed to marry off soon after they moved in; I was the “old maid” anchor) and learned there was a vacancy at 505, I began praying for young, handsome, single men to take up residence.
What I got was far better.
Steve and Renee Kantor started out as neighbors. They became great friends. I now consider them family.
We didn’t just exchange pleasantries when heading out for the day. They were THERE for me. I had a notoriously finicky turquoise Plymouth Laser that HATED winter. It would fail to turn over every single cold morning in 1994. Steve would miraculously appear, pulling in with his Dunkin Donuts coffee as I sat, frustrated trying to get that engine going. His jumper cables were probably used more in 1994 that in all previous years combined. He never grumbled or even rolled his eyes. He was delighted to save the day, in his sure and steady way.
At that point in time, Steve’s “office” was a couple of tables in his basement with one other person. I hoped he was doing well enough to stay afloat.
Renee and I started out walking the neighborhood to get some exercise in the morning. I hated walking in the cold (almost as much as my Laser hated winter) but I began to CHERISH our walking conversations. Kindness and humor; gentleness and a heart that always saw the best in me – it was a happy dream to discover that a new person would enter my life and take up residence in one of the special chambers reserved for the closest of confidantes.
Fast forward to the year 2000. By then we might have built a walkway between our two town-homes, there was so much back and forth between the two. Steve had this odd sixth sense to know when food was being served, and his knock at the door, uncannily timed, meant another plate would be filled ( a paper plate; he usually got his meals “to go.”) I laughingly recalled the night that my oven broke and I was expecting dinner guests. I called my friend Renee who didn’t hesitate to offer her own stove – as long as I figured out how to use it. In her wry, self-deprecating way I actually think she replied, “I just use it for storage.” (I’m actually thrilled that Renee is not a cook — our friendship actually “took off” when I invited her to go out for Chinese, and she readily agreed.)
I hit a super low point in my life – I was laid off from a job I loved; that I actually considered a calling. I had put my communications experience on the back burner to serve as a youth leader for a church school…and my resume had grown dusty over those six years. Not only did I not have a job, for whatever reason I was not allowed to receive unemployment compensation. I was stone cold broke and fearful about my future.
That little basement office became my lifeline to a hoped-for new life. Steve and Renee gave me liberal access to their computer so I could search for jobs, update my resume and compose what seemed like hundreds of cover letters. How many times on their way to dinner out they would knock on the door and invite me along – “their treat.”
It was 8 long months searching…and the friendship and generosity of my family and closest friends sustained me. And because they were right there next door, “a very present help in times of trouble.”
In good times, your friends get to know who YOU are.
In bad times, you get to know who your FRIENDS are.
And when I finally landed the perfect job, boy did we celebrate!
When, at age 39 I finally met Mr. Right, boy did we celebrate!
When I married that guy and moved out of 506 Meadow Court, I knew that what began in 1994 would last way beyond my move in 2003. Not too long afterward, Steve’s little company needed bigger space. A few years later…bigger space. More and bigger – yet they remained humble, kind, grateful, generous.
Steve and Renee are the type of people who go to Target at Christmas and start handing out gift cards to strangers they feel might benefit from a little extra holiday help. Renee gets up extra early each morning to feed birds and other strays who would otherwise go hungry. Steve walks around his now huge office space handing out random Dunkin Donuts cards to make his employees feel appreciated. “Mitzve” means good deed, and their lives are full of these stories.
They are a beautiful team, united with an unwritten set of core values: To affect the lives of the people they encounter for good.
And the outflow? They are universally beloved.
Last night, a ballroom full of employees (yes, I am now one of them!) toasted their huge accomplishment of attaining 20 years in business. Deeper and wider than that landmark, however, is the ripple effect of their lives on those in the room and countless others, whose lives are richer for knowing these two.
In a video tribute to them, I shared some of the Yiddish words they taught me and how they embody them. I already mentioned “mensch” and “mitzve” – but equally special is that they didn’t just create a company. They created a “mischpocha” – a family of people who genuinely care for each other.
So it’s appropriate to end with another Yiddish “M”:
Mazel tov, Steve and Renee. You deserve all the happiness this world can offer…and you sure are loved.